It’s probably corny to say this, but here goes: Wonder is simply wonderful. It’s a feel-good family film that kids and adults alike will enjoy in equal measure, with a simple message that you should always choose kindness and treat others the way you want to be treated. The movie is anchored by an extraordinary, heartfelt performance by Jacob Tremblay (even better here than he was in Room) as ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with a disfigured face and has undergone 27 surgeries that have kept him out of school. Auggie is so self-conscious about his appearance that he wears a plastic space helmet whenever he goes outside, in order to shield himself from curious and sometimes cruel onlookers. But now that Auggie will be entering the fifth grade, his mom (Julia Roberts) believes it’s time for him to face the inevitable and enter a local school. His overprotective dad (Owen Wilson) isn’t so sure. “It’s like leading a lamb to the slaughter,” he worries. As for Auggie, he’s “totally petrified.”
Wonder follows Auggie’s experiences in the fifth grade, where he is gawked at, teased, and bullied -- but also where he learns to accept himself and forge new, unlikely friendships. All Auggie wants is to be a normal kid, but as his older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) tells him, “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”
The genius of Wonder, directed by Stephen Chbosky (who also adapted the script, along with co-writers Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne, from R.J. Palacio’s best-selling novel), is its inspired decision to not just focus on Auggie. The movie unfolds in chapters: The first centers on the young boy, but after that the film shifts its attention to Via, who struggles to be noticed in a family that “revolves around the son, not the daughter,” and then onto Via’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), followed by Auggie’s classmate and first real friend Jack Will (Noah Jupe). Even chief bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar) is given his due in a remarkable scene that involves a dispute between his parents and the school’s principal.
Thankfully, the film avoids cheap sentimentality. It does tug hard at your heartstrings, but the emotions it elicits and the tears it pries loose (a tissue or two will be needed) are well-earned. Much of that is due to the uniformly excellent cast, led by Tremblay. Roberts and Wilson are tremendous (a savvy producer would be wise to cast them together in a rom-com, such is their chemistry), and Vidovic is a revelation. A scene late in the movie in which she appears as Emily in a production of Our Town is simply heartbreaking. Even the film’s secondary roles carry quite an impact, due to luminaries such as Mandy Patinkin, Sonia Braga, and Daveed Diggs.
Wonder does falter a bit in the homestretch. Just when you think it’s over, it continues on for a bit and plucks those heartstrings perhaps one too many times. But by then, Auggie and his family will have successfully hijacked your heart anyway, so you likely won’t quibble if they stay around a little longer than needed.
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